New START in the Lame Duck

by Duncan Currie

Recent comments by various members of the GOP Senate caucus — including John McCain, George Voinovich, Lindsey Graham, and Bob Corker — have given supporters of the New START treaty hope that it might be possible to achieve ratification before the 111th Congress adjourns. And according to National Journal, “Senate Republicans deliberately excluded any reference to ratification of a New START treaty in a letter in which all 42 members of the GOP conference pledged to filibuster ‘any legislative item’ until expiring Bush-era income tax cuts are extended.”

On the other hand, the lame-duck window is rapidly closing. The top Republican negotiator on START is McCain’s Arizona colleague, Jon Kyl, who earlier today told NR’s Bob Costa that unless a tax agreement were finalized by “very early next week,” the Senate would not “have time to do START.” McCain has said that GOP senators will follow Kyl’s lead on the U.S.-Russia nuclear pact, but the former Republican presidential nominee is now facing tremendous pressure from the Obama administration to help get the treaty approved before Christmas. “I think it’s pretty much impossible without McCain,” says a GOP lobbyist who has monitored the Hill debate closely.

Unfortunately for Obama, the principal Republican concerns with START cannot be fully addressed without triggering serious rancor in Moscow. For example, the White House and the Kremlin seem to have fundamentally different views of how the treaty would affect U.S. missile-defense capabilities. As for GOP concerns about ensuring compliance, fresh revelations of past Russian mischief don’t exactly boost Moscow’s credibility.

“The U.S. believes Russia has moved short-range tactical nuclear warheads to facilities near North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies as recently as this spring,” the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday. “U.S. officials say the movement of warheads to facilities bordering NATO allies appeared to run counter to pledges made by Moscow starting in 1991 to pull tactical nuclear weapons back from frontier posts and to reduce their numbers.”

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